Doctor Who: The TV Movie

"By midnight tonight, this planet will be pulled inside out."

After seven years in the wilderness (we'll ignore 'Dimensions in Time'), Doctor Who finally returned to television screens in 1996 with this TV Movie, also known as ‘The Enemy Within’. Intended as a backdoor pilot for a potential new series, this joint production between the BBC, Universal and Fox saw Sylvester McCoy pass the torch to Paul McGann’s new Doctor. Despite strong ratings in Britain, it flopped in the US and all plans for the new series were scrapped. It would be another nine years before the BBC tried to revive Doctor Who again and with considerably more success.

I'm just going to get right to the point. This movie is bad. Really bad. So bad that I have to wonder if the people who made it were actually going out of their way to ensure it didn't get picked up for a full series. They certainly went out of their way to make it as incomprehensible as possible for new viewers. As much as we mock 'Rose' for its burping wheelie bin and plastic Mickey, Russell T. Davies at least managed to reintroduce Doctor Who in a way that made it easily accessible to the millions of people who hadn't grown up with it. This movie just throws everyone in at the deep end with weights tied to their legs.

The whole thing starts with a very clunky narration that comes across like the writer was playing some weird game of Doctor Who bingo. Within minutes words like Master, Skaro, Daleks, and Time Lords are getting thrown around without any attempt to explain what any of them actually mean. Not that this movie makes it any easier for the people who do. We haven't even gotten to the titles yet and this movie is already getting so much about the show wrong it is dizzying. Since when do the Daleks have such fundamentally un-Dalek things like due process, courts, judges, and juries? Why would they honour the Master's last wish and give his remains to the Doctor to return to Gallifrey? Daleks are not known for being respectful of the dead. Or even the living. And why do they sound like there’s a helium leak?

Anyway, turns out the Master is only mostly dead. Somehow he has managed to turn himself into a snot snake and possess people's bodies as well as turn other people into his zombie slaves with his evil snot. He escapes, forcing the Doctor to make an emergency landing in San Francisco where he is shot not five seconds after stepping out of the TARDIS. The Doctor is rushed to hospital where the only surgeon on call is, naturally, at the opera. I suspect this was done just so they could have a shot of Grace running through the hospital in her evening gown, which she still wears to surgery. Pretty sure that's a big no no. Because Time Lords aren't covered in Grey's Anatomy, the Doctor dies on the table. Thus the Seventh Doctor's tenure comes to a less than heroic end. At least no exercise bikes were involved. It feels like such a waste to bring McCoy back only to give him little to do besides die a rather lame death. He doesn't even get that many lines. Barely a dozen by my count.

One of the most surprising things about this movie is how over the top the entire thing is. Despite having that bland, mid-90s, early X-Files, made in Canada look, the camerawork, music, sets, and acting is often ridiculously melodramatic. Nowhere is this more true than during the regeneration scene. Taking place in a morgue on a dark and stormy night (because why not?), where the mortician is naturally watching Frankenstein, the whole thing looks like it was done using some borrowed quickening effects from Highlander: The Series.

Despite looking so frail he'd crumble if you gently stroked him, the newly regenerated Doctor punches his way through a metal door like it's nothing (a power I'm sure the Twelfth Doctor wishes he still had), scares the mortician, then makes his way to a wing of this fancy hospital so derelict you almost expect him to run into Rick Grimes. This also seems to be where the hospital keeps all its broken mirrors, allowing the amnesiac Doctor the opportunity to stare multiple times at his unfamiliar face before falling to his knees, posing like Jesus and screaming "WHO! AM! I?!" at the top of his lungs.


While all of this is going on, snot Master has gotten himself a new body courtesy of Emma Roberts' dad, who is extremely camp and over the top, but almost a paragon of restraint compared to John Simm's annoyingly manic Master. Because this new body won't last, the Master wants to steal the Doctor's body and so opens the Eye of Harmony, which will allow him to do that for some unexplained reason. Also, the Eye can only be opened by human eyes for another unexplained reason. Also again, opening the Eye will destroy the Earth at the stroke of midnight (Pacific Time), again for some unexplained reason. Oh, and this is all taking place on New Year's Eve 1999 for no particular reason other than people in the late '90s were really obsessed with the millennium.

What follows is a rather tedious run around Vancouver San Francisco before everyone heads back to the TARDIS for something that is meant to be some kind of conclusion, but I'm not all to sure, as it's all a bit of a mess. Best I can work out Grace saves the day by randomly messing with a load of wires in the TARDIS console and the TARDIS eats the Master before he has the chance to devour any more of its sets. Oh, and the TARDIS can resurrect people now because why the fuck not?

With the day saved and the TARDIS digesting the Master (don't ask), everyone says their goodbyes, which is one of the oddest things about the whole venture. Why introduce two new potential companion characters (Grace and Chang Lee) only to have them both leave at the end? If the show had been picked up would the doctor have gone back for Grace or would they have just introduced a new companion? Not that I think it was any great tragedy that she got left behind. Grace wasn't exactly the best of characters, plus the supposed romance between her and the Doctor was terribly unconvincing and resulted in some really corny dialogue ("I finally meet the right guy and he's from another planet").

It really is a shame that this movie ended up being such a colossal failure, because not only did it mean we had to wait another nine years before we got more Doctor Who, it also meant that we never got to see more of Paul McGann as the Doctor. He's easily the best thing about the entire mishap. His Eighth Doctor is just wonderful (even with that distracting wig) and it's a tragedy that he was lumbered with this mess of a movie as his first (and only) story. I'm sure if he'd been given a full series, with some decent scripts, he'd be regarded as one of the absolute best Doctors around, rather than unfairly dismissed as the George Lazenby of Doctor Who.



Notes and Quotes

--Although he wouldn’t be seen on screen again until ‘The Night of the Doctor’ in 2013, the Eighth Doctor would have a vibrant second life in the spin-off media. BBC Books published a total of 73 novels, titled The Eight Doctor Adventures, between 1997 and 2005, while McGann would return to the role for a series of audio dramas for Big Finish starting with ‘Storm Warning’ in 2001.

--The Doctor mentions that he is half-human on his mother side, something the series has completely ignored ever since.

--John Debney, the movie’s composer, did not want to use the original theme, which is almost as insane as not having the TARDIS be a police box.

--Grace's boyfriend breaks up with her and is completely moved out of her house by the next day. Even taking the sofa. How on Earth did he manage to find a new place to live, let alone a moving crew willing to work on such short notice, in less than 24 hours? On December 31st, 1999 of all days.

--During the project’s early days, John Leekley was commissioned by Universal Television and Amblin Entertainment to produce scripts and a series bible for a completely American remake that would’ve restarted the entire series from scratch. Leekley’s plans included remaking several classic series episodes, including the unfinished ‘Shada’, reimagining the Cybermen as the Cybs, and sending the half-human Doctor off in search of his father, Ulysses. Although some of his ideas made it into the final product, Leekley was eventually removed from the project.

--That wonderful, steampunk TARDIS set. It is just a beautiful thing to behold and my favourite by far, followed by Capaldi's.

--Anthony Head, Tim McInnerny, Liam Cunningham, and John Sessions all auditioned for the Eighth Doctor. All four would later appear in the revived series. McGann’s brother, Mark, also auditioned for the Doctor.

--According to one of the producers, a BBC executive wanted Tom Baker, not McCoy, to appear as the Doctor before regenerating into McGann because they felt he was more popular.

The Doctor: "I was with Pucini when he died."
Grace: "Name-dropper."

Grace: "Well, you have no recollection of family."
The Doctor: "No. No, no, no, no. Wait, wait. I remember I'm with my father, lying back in the grass. It's a warm Gallifreyan night."
Grace: "Gallifreyan?"
The Doctor: "Gallifrey! Yes, this must be where I live. Now, where is that?"
Grace: "I've never heard of it. What do you remember?"
The Doctor: "A meteor storm. The sky above us was dancing with lights. Purple, green and brilliant yellow! Yes!"
Grace: "What?"
The Doctor: "These shoes! They fit perfectly."

Grace: "Did you know Madame Curie, too?"
The Doctor: "Intimately."
Grace: "Did she kiss as good as me?"
The Master: "As well as you."

Lee: "Hey, man, when I get all that gold, you know what I'm going to do?"
The Master: "I don't want to know."
Lee: "You kill me."
The Master: "You want me to kill you?"
Lee: "No! No, I mean you make me laugh, man. You're a funny guy.
The Master: "I'm glad one of us is amused."

I'm going to be a little generous, because I love Eight so much, and give this two out of four snot snakes.

And that is me all done. I started these reviews way back in 2011 and there were times I honestly thought I would never get them all done. Once I reached the Sixth and Seventh Doctors it stopped being a fun little hobby and became a unpleasant chore. But I soldiered on because this is one of the first shows I reviewed for this site and I was determined to finish it. I'd of course like to thank Billie for letting me join the Doux Reviews team in the first place, Paul for always being there to help out when I asked, Sunbunny for all the moral support, all the other writers, and of course all you lovely readers who have stuck with me during my long, often rambling, repeatedly infrequent journey through Doctor Who's bygone years. I'll sign off by saying... in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!



Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

He's done, he's done, he's done!!! Congratulations, Mark!

Virtual party! Let's pop the champagne!

sunbunny said...

I got a shoutout! I'm so touched.

Remco said...

Congrats! Is Coronation Street next?

Billie Doux said...

I'd say he's going to tackle all of Star Trek, but we're actually trying to do that. :)

Anonymous said...

How about Curse or Fatal Death? Don’t know what it is? I’ll explain later.

Patryk said...

I remember this being the 1st Doctor Who story I ever conciously saw. (might have seen some Tom Baker when I was 3 without even knowing what I'm looking at) But I don't remember anything about it. :)

Congratulations on completing the reviews. Monumental task.

Tim said...

So long, Mark, and thanks for all the reviews.

I've enjoyed every one.

Surely you're entitled to a well-deserved regeneration now. :-)